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Exchange Your Unwanted Gift Cards for United Miles

Jan. 08, 2016
4 min read
Exchange Your Unwanted Gift Cards for United Miles
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Did you receive some gift cards over the holidays that you aren't too excited about? Well, United is offering to take them off your hands — but not at a very good rate!

You too may have received an email yesterday from United with the ever-tempting offer to "Exchange your gift cards. Earn extra miles."

Gift cards from dozens of merchants are available to exchange for miles.

On the Gift Card Exchange landing page, United links to a list of the merchants whose gift cards it'll accept, including popular ones like Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Home Depot, Sears, Starbucks and Walmart. However, there are some merchants on its list that aren't available for exchange on the website (i.e. Target), while other merchants are available for exchange that aren't on the list (i.e. North Face and HP).

Switching airline allegiances? United will buy your American Airlines and Southwest gift cards — but not those from Alaska, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian or JetBlue.

Earning Rate

It seems every merchant is paying at the "minimum" rate.

United has a chart listing the "minimum miles awarded," which would indicate that some options offer more miles than these rates. But, I checked 40 different gift card merchants and the results are the same for every one:

  • $15 gift cards = 400 United miles (3.75 cpm)
  • $20 gift cards = 540 United miles (3.70 cpm)
  • $25 gift cards = 670 United miles (3.73 cpm)
  • $40 gift cards = 1,070 United miles (3.74 cpm)
  • $50 gift cards = 1,330 United miles (3.76 cpm)
  • $100 gift cards = 2,660 United miles (3.76 cpm)

The calculation works out to be: the gift card value x 26.6, rounded up to the nearest 10 miles. This rate imputes a value on the United miles of between 3.70-3.76 cents per mile, which is much higher than our valuation of 1.5 cents per United mile. This means that you're getting terrible value from your gift cards.

While this is a large difference, at least United is being consistent: you can buy United miles at a rate of $35 per 1,000 United miles. After taxes and fees, this rate is effectively 3.76 cents per mile.

Steps to exchanging your gift cards for United miles.


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  • No limit to the number of cards you can exchange.
  • No need to mail in the gift card; the transaction occurs entirely online.


  • Your MileagePlus account must have been open for at least 90 days "and have a positive account balance."
  • Although United will give you a quote for $10 gift cards, the terms & conditions state: "Gift cards accepted must have a $15 minimum balance on the card and may have a maximum imposed."
  • Only available for gift cards up to $100.

Bottom Line

I won't be going through these steps anytime soon.

This offer isn't going to be useful to most people. There are other gift card exchanges that'll give you a much better rate for your gift cards.

The only use I can imagine for this if you need United miles for a redemption, have tapped out your Chase Ultimate Rewards points and have a qualifying gift card. If your only other option is to buy United miles, you might as well liquidate the gift card — especially if it's one that you wouldn't plan to use soon anyways.

Will you be using the United Gift Card Exchange program to liquidate unwanted gift cards?
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